At the Dene Games stick pull, 15-year-old Misty May Willmarth was Team Alaska’s biggest cheerleader.

“Let’s go, Alaska, let’s go!” she lead the rest of the team in a chant.

“Everyone is really into it. Everyone gets really intense and really loud,” Wilmarth said. “The biggest award you can get is sportsmanship, so we try to go all out.”

Wilmarth is the returning champ in this Dene Games event. She won two years ago in Fairbanks as a juvenile, but is now competing in the junior class.

“It looks like I’m going against a lot of the same girls, so I’m excited but at the same time I’m sure they got as much practice as I did,” she said.

The stick pull represents the strength fishermen needed to live a subsistence lifestyle; they needed a good grip to hold on to the slippery fish. Although Wilmarth lives in Palmer, it’s a way to connect back to her Yupik ancestors.

“It makes me proud of who I am. It makes me be at the top of my culture to show who I am and what my culture is. Makes my family proud,” she said, smiling.

She was out-pulled this year, but still made the podium with a third place finish. Wilmarth said what’s more important than the medal is seeing athletes from around the world come together to play the indigenous games.